DOVER-FOXCROFT — When police investigated an abandoned vehicle more than three years ago in rural Canaan, they found a Canadian-registered car that had been ransacked, its four tires slashed, and a trail of blood leading from the vehicle to a grassy ditched area.
The blood was that of 70-year-old Eugene Fortin, a Canadian man who was found lying in a ditch a short distance away from his vehicle. He had been beaten, stabbed, robbed and left for dead. Fortin is now an invalid in a Quebec nursing home, unable to communicate or care for himself.
Michael Thompson, 36, of Canaan, the man accused of the crime, sat nearly motionless Tuesday as witnesses testified in Piscataquis County Superior Court about his whereabouts on the night of Oct. 4, 1994, when Fortin was assaulted.
A jury, including alternates, of 11 women and three men will hear evidence about whether Thompson is guilty of robbery and aggravated assault against the Levis, Quebec, resident. A third count against Thompson, violation of condition of release, will be decided by presiding Justice Margaret Kravchuk, as requested by Thompson’s court-appointed attorney Dale Thistle of Newport.
The case is expected to continue today. Prosecuting the case is Somerset County Assistant District Attorney Andrew Benson.
The case was moved from Somerset County because of extensive pretrial publicity. Four previous trial dates were postponed at Thistle’s request.
Witnesses testified Tuesday that Fortin had stopped at about 8:15 that October night at the Canaan Superette to ask for directions to Winslow, where he planned to visit his sister. It was difficult to make him understand the directions because he spoke French, according to Jane LaPlante, a store employee.
Fortin left the store but returned visibly upset about a half-hour later, according to LaPlante. While he was being instructed again on the correct route, Thompson appeared in the store, recalled the witness. Thompson bought some liquor, then suggested that he could help Fortin since he was going that way, LaPlante said.
“I felt pretty good the old man was being helped,” LaPlante said.
Waiting for Thompson in a vehicle outside were Debbie Turcotte, Linwood Steward, Cory Trial and Jodi Olsen, all from the Canaan-Skowhegan area. They and Thompson had spent a day drinking and had decided to visit the convenience store for more liquor, according to Olsen. Olsen, who said she was drunk that night, admitted that she was driving the vehicle, which was owned by Turcotte.
Olsen, 22, of Canaan has pleaded guilty to robbery in connection with the incident. She testified Tuesday that she had finished her four-year sentence at the Maine Correctional Center. Trial, 22, of Skowhegan also pleaded guilty to robbery and was sentenced to 20 years.
Olsen testified that when Thompson returned to the Turcotte car, he said he wanted to give directions to some guy. She recalled that she drove a distance before stopping the vehicle at Thompson’s request. The other car followed. Thompson got out of the car and talked with Fortin in his car before they continued on. Olsen said that Thompson mentioned robbing the man during the ride.
When they stopped a second time, Thompson and Trial got out of the vehicle, and Olsen went to search through a suitcase in Fortin’s vehicle, she said. She removed a wallet before they left the scene. The wallet was later thrown from the car window, Olsen said. After dropping Trial off in Skowhegan, the group traveled to the Skowhegan Boat Landing. Olsen said Thompson got out of the vehicle and went into the woods. When he returned, they left the area, she recalled.
Several police officers testified they later recovered a large military Kabar knife still in its sheath in the Kennebec River at the Skowhegan Boat Landing. A test indicated the presence of blood, reported Ron Kaufman, a state police forensic chemist.
LaPlante said she learned of the robbery the next morning. Not wanting to work alone that night, LaPlante said, her father-in-law, Thomas LaPlante, the store owner, remained with her. When Thompson returned the evening of Oct. 5 for more liquor, Jane LaPlante told her father-in-law that Thompson was the man who offered to show Fortin the way to Winslow.
In an effort to get the customer’s name, Thomas LaPlante asked for Thompson’s identification. Thompson could not produce his driver’s license, but did offer a court document as identification. Thomas LaPlante testified he took down the docket number on the court paper and then went outside after Thompson left the store and recorded his license plate, which he gave to police.
Although no blood stains were reportedly found inside Turcotte’s vehicle, which was tested about nine days after the stabbing, two fingerprints taken from the exterior of Fortin’s vehicle had the same characters as Thompson’s fingerprints, according to testimony.
Defense attorney Thistle hammered at a state police fingerprint expert, questioning why fingerprints weren’t taken from a tire that exhibited what appeared to be blood, the wallet, the suitcase, the glove box in Fortin’s vehicle or the knife sheath. The expert, Maine State Police Detective Bryan Bacheller, replied that it was hard to take fingerprints from leather and rubber. The glove box was covered with dirt, making it difficult as well, he testified.
Thistle asked whether police tried to match the fingerprints with others in the vehicle that night. Bacheller said police did not.